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Nats creating RMA backdoor for pet projects

Hon David Benson-Pope, MP
Member of Parliament for Dunedin South
Associate Minister for the Environment

24 July 2005 Media Statement
National creating RMA backdoor so pet projects can proceed unchecked

The National Party seems set to announce the creation of a backdoor in the Resource Management Act that will allow large-scale projects to go ahead without the scrutiny of local communities.

Associate Environment Minister David Benson-Pope says it was reported to him that National's Environment spokesman Nick Smith told a public meeting last week that National would shift the overriding goal of the RMA from the sustainable management of the environment to a development focus.

Mr Benson-Pope says most criticism of National's RMA have already been addressed or are covered within a package of improvements the government has in a Bill before Parliament.

"However, Mr Smith did signal at least one major policy change that will alarm most ordinary New Zealanders," said Mr Benson-Pope. "Mr Smith told the public meeting that National would make meeting a national standard sufficient for getting a consent. If true, National would be creating a free ticket for developers and is signalling an end to proper management of the environment.

"In essence, National's plan would allow a government of the day to specify minimum standards for any development project – pylons, prisons, cell phone towers, or motorways - and there would be nothing any New Zealander could do to stop it being built. So long as a national standard exists, that would give a developer an unstoppable green light to go ahead.

"The implications of such a policy are immense. Conceivably, some future government could even set a minimum standard for nuclear power generation. This policy is the end of community consultation, the end of sound resource management and a nail in the coffin of open and transparent government.

"Dr Brash has been signalling for some time that he wants to do away with community consultation in major projects so he can give free licence to certain favoured projects.

"National's proposal to build at least 10 new prisons will be of great interest to the residents of Tauranga, Nelson and Albany who will get the first three. To build prisons at break-neck speed could only be achieved by bulldozing through legislation and removing a community's ability to have a voice. Can you imagine the alarm in communities the length of this country waking up one morning to find prisons built in their backyard without a whisper of being asked if this was a suitable place to be housing criminals?

"Everyone from business people to environmental groups has acknowledged New Zealand's environment is our greatest asset. This call by the National Party to rip the RMA apart for the sake of development is extreme and unwise.

"No one is complaining at the moment about our level of strong economic growth and unprecedented employment levels under Labour. This has been achieved without riding rough-shod over communities and the clean air, water and soil guaranteed for generations to come.

Mr Benson-Pope says he believes environmental issues could become an important election issue if National goes ahead with this plan.

"New Zealanders are proud of our clean and green image. While processes that weigh up the costs and benefits of development sometimes get criticised surveys consistently show that Kiwis expect sound environmental decision-making. The National party plan doesn't just tilt the playing field in the favour of large-scale developments, it effectively knee-caps any opponents."

Mr Benson-Pope says other areas of the RMA signalled as important by the National Party were already being addressed by the government. These included:

- Speeding up processes;

- Reducing cost; and

- Limiting vexatious applicants.

"The Resource Management Act was introduced by National in the first place and since then we have spent a lot of effort making it work.

"The National Party continues to talk about reducing the complexity of plans but this appears to be code for reducing the involvement of communities in setting environmental standards appropriate to their area.

"This approach by National is understandable because they have a proven track record of being unable to work with local government. Previously they advocated privatising the roading system, and their electricity reform remains a daily reminder of their incompetence.

"As a government we've placed an emphasis on working with local government and our RMA amendment Bill currently before Parliament focuses on providing councils with the skills and resources they need to improve RMA processes.

"In the Bill we have identified a series of timely, sensible and well thought out improvements to the working of the RMA. We will not be watering down the RMA's ability to protect the environment or sacrificing local decision-making and public participation."


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